The University of Rochester Medical Center’s Wilmot Cancer Institute secured $13.6 million in new peer-reviewed grants during the first six months of 2022. The dollars go toward multiple fields of study, demonstrating the strength of cancer research programs, leaders say.
The funds support studies including examining the bone marrow’s role in leukemia, ways to stop breast cancer cells from making their own antioxidants, and a translational research effort that could help older patients with cancer and dementia.
Typically, Wilmot gets $30 million a year to sustain research and research training activities, URMC says, and the new grants will help maintain and increase that level.
Wilmot Director Jonathan Friedberg M.D., says the funding goes beyond the programs in place, speaking to the “success we’ve had in our targeted recruiting and career development efforts.”
Nearly half of the scientists who received the new funding are early-career investigators or have just hit the midpoint of their careers.
“The quality of science among our young people is something to celebrate,” says Hucky Land, Wilmot deputy director and a longtime URMC scientific leader. “It’s extremely promising when you look to the future and the growth of our programs at Wilmot.”
Here is a closer look at the projects:
■ Advanced technology to study ways to interrupt the development of blood cancers by focusing on the tissues and cells that surround tumors. A roughly $2 million, five-year National Cancer Institute grant marks Jeevisha Bajaj’s first R01 grant, the original and oldest funding vehicle, as an independent investigator. Bajaj is an assistant professor of biomedical genetics.
■ Diagnosis of breast cancer and prediction of its spread by using optical technology. The National Science Foundation awarded Edward Brown, associate professor in the departments of biomedical engineering and neuroscience, $276,000.
■ A study of aging-mechanisms of bone marrow. Abnormal bone-forming stem cells in the marrow not only lead to osteoporosis but also contribute to the development of leukemia and other blood diseases, URMC says. Professor Laura Calvi M.D. and Roman Eliseev M.D., associate professor, received a five-year grant from National Institute of Aging totaling roughly $2.3 million. Calvi expects a second large grant to scrutinize how cancer develops in aging bone marrow.
■ A 3D imaging device, invented by Michael Giacomelli, assistant professor, to detect whether a tissue sample is cancerous. Giacomelli got some $328,000 from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering to advance his studies, specifically for melanoma surgery.
■ Blocking the way tumors use antioxidants to grow in triple negative breast cancer—an aggressive form—is Isaac Harris’ research. The assistant professor received a five-year NCI grant of approximately $1.9 million. Like Bajaj, this is Harris’ first R01 award as an independent investigator.
■ A randomized clinical trial for a new tool to improve communication between doctors and older patients with acute leukemia. Kah Poh Loh, assistant professor, received a $200,000 career development award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology Cancer Foundation. She is expected to get another grant from the National Institute on Aging for a project that involves analysis of patient blood and bone marrow samples for DNA methylation, a biomarker of biological age.
■ Improving communication between physicians and older patients with pre-existing dementia to help oncologists deliver better care. Allison Manguson D.O., associate professor, received roughly $2.5 million over five years from National Institute on Aging. It is her first R01 award as an independent investigator.
■ Reducing pulmonary in lung cancer patients who underwent radiation therapy, especially those who were exposed to or infected by a virus. Professor Brain Marples got approximately $424,000 from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to target macrophages, a type of immune cell.
■ Clinical research to improve the understanding of cachexia, a condition that involves significant weight loss and muscle wasting in some cancer patients. Part of a global team, Professor Karen Mustian, Richard Dunne M.D., assistant professor, and Po-Ju Lin, research assistant professor, will conduct the inquiry funded by an NCI initiative known as Cancer Grand Challenges. The team received $2.6 million.
■ The study of myelodysplastic syndrome, a pre-leukemia condition, received $693,000 from the Department of Defense. Archibald Perkins M.D., a professor who researches chromosomal abnormalities in blood cancers, received $693,000 for this project.
■ Evaluation of a drug cocktail in a study of individuals with chronic lymphoblastic leukemia. Professor Clive Zent M.D. received $396,000 from the NIH to conduct correlative laboratory studies to see if the new drug combination achieves its goals.
Each of these grants went through a competitive process. URMC officials say several other Wilmot investigators also received grant funding from pharmaceutical companies, contracts, and other sources.